What is welcome about David Twohys films is that they are both modest and intelligent. He focuses on tight character-driven dramas and prefers an intelligent exploration of ideas in favour of big flashy effects. Twohys films are built around ensemble casts and he deliberately casts relative unknowns the most well-known of the actors here, for example, is the hardly A-list Bruce Greenwood. This lack of star casts tend to give the films an edge in that one is uncertain who is going to survive nobody in Below has the handsome Hollywood leading star status that almost mandatorily establishes their survival capacity in other films. It is perhaps for these reasons lack of big flashy effects, lack of Hollywood name stars that David Twohys films never become smash blockbuster hits.
When Twohys The Arrival came out, it premiered a few months after Independence Day (1996). Both were films on the theme of alien invasion Independence Day was big, effects-driven, mindlessly waved a patriotic flag and had no concept of subtlety, whereas The Arrival was subtle and low-key, spookily atmospheric and above all intelligent. Independence Day became a box-office smash, while The Arrival did only modest business. The same happened in 2002. Below came out only a few months before the big-office smash of Ghost Ship (2002), both featuring similar themes of haunted ships. Ghost Ship was big, effects-driven, mindless and with little concept of subtlety, whereas Below is subtle, low-key, spookily atmospheric and above all intelligent. Naturally, Ghost Ship was a hit, whereas the infinitely superior Below almost figuratively sank without a trace. It may be David Twohys curse that he is destined to make strong and intelligent genre films that win great acclaim but do little business.
The Ghost Ship comparison is never clearer than during one of the most powerful scenes in Below the hydrogen explosion. Whereas Ghost Ship would almost certainly have shown the ship blowing apart in great CGI-rendered detail, David Twohy contrarily shows the scene with an almost entire lack of effect no more than Christopher Fairbank shouting to shut the door, a closeup on a glowing light coil and then the lights flickering in the rest of the ship. It is the aftermath of the scene with the crew wandering through the section of the ship by torchlight and revealing the crisped remains of the crews bodies that the effect of what has happened becomes shockingly apparent.
David Twohy never directs flashy effects-heavy scenes for their own sake, nevertheless still manages to create sequences that are seat-edge and gripping think of the vortex scene in The Arrival or the opening crashlanding in Pitch Black. The scenes here with the submarine being scoured by hooks and particularly the sequence where a depth-charge barrel bounces down the length of the deck are gripping in impact, yet the effects are never showstopping in attention, merely directed towards the overall effect of a scene.
Twohys scares throughout Below are wonderfully low-key. Maybe they are even too quiet and subdued merely momentary glimpses of ghostly figures that both characters and the audience think they might have imagined. The most overt and spooky is the scene where Holt McCallany sees his reflection in a mirror and it doesnt keep making the same movements that he does.
David Twohy has certainly done his research on WWII submarine warfare and the care to detail and attention is more than apparent. The set designers do an excellent job in capturing the claustrophobic interiors of the submarine.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this sites Best of 2002 Awards).